We're apt to ignore the importance of food preservation, but its significance can't be overestimated. In Pickled, Potted, and Canned
, Sue Shephard tells the fascinating and unexpectedly stirring story of the development of preserved, portable food--a history full of human ingenuity and mastery that limns our evolution from hunter-gathers, dependent upon food availability for sustenance, to "season cheaters" able to take nourishment when and where we wanted to and thus discover the world. Food preservation's history is the story of civilization itself, and in lively prose readers discover the way the world was shaped by such common yet extraordinary techniques as drying, salting, smoking, and, most recently, canning and freezing.
In 1800, Shepard writes, archaeologists working in Egypt discovered the body of a baby perfectly preserved in millennia-old honey, a practice stretching back in time and employed by the embalmers of Alexander the Great, also buried in honey. Sugar preservation, we are reminded, is one of the major techniques of food keeping--mixed with fruit, sugar produces jams, preserves, candied fruit, and other time-defying food--and Shepard traces its history from ancient Greece to the present. Similarly, she explores other techniques including salting, responsible for keeping meat and fish like cod palatable and at the ready; fermenting, to which we owe soy sauce and other mainstays; and drying, which gave us pasta and "ever-fresh" breads such as hardtack and matzo. From ancient but ever-evolving preservation methods like these to modern dehydration, which helps produce food that sustains astronauts, the book details simultaneously world-changing skills and culture in the making. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
Before the advent of chemically preserved foods, people relied on ingenious natural preserving methods to survive winters. Shephard (coauthor, United Tastes of America), the creator of several food television programs in England, chronicles the history of food preservation in detail, from salt-cured pork, fermented soybeans (an Asian staple), fish buried in sand (in Africa and Northern Europe) and wines made from rice, to Bird's Eye dinners and freeze-dried astronaut food. Shephard argues that food preservation has been integral to human progress, allowing us to advance from subsistence hunter-gatherers to explorers and traders who can travel the globe and even outer space. While her focus is food, other interesting tidbits emerge: in 1800, archeologists found and consumed a jar of honey in Egypt, then discovered the body of a small baby preserved inside. (In fact, from the Neolithic era onward, Aryans, Sumerians, Babylonians and Cretans often buried their dead in honey.) One of the book's strongest sections covers explorations. The preservation of food was vital to early explorers like Marco Polo, who needed supplies to last through long, arduous journeys. (On one American Northwest expedition in 1801, Lewis and Clark brought "193 pounds of portable soup, twenty barrels of flour, fourteen barrels of parched corn, forty-two barrels of salt pork, two hundred pounds of beef tallow, and fifty pounds of pig lard stored in whisky barrels.") Shephard's straightforward tone and accessible scholarship make for a thorough and intriguing history. B&w photos and illus. Agent, Jane Turnbull.
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